As Pastor Evan Mawarire’s trial continues today, the ever-persistent question of a Christian’s role in standing up against oppression and injustice continues to dog society.
Should Christians be actively involved in the struggle against an oppressive and unjust regime and system, or should they just watch and do nothing?
In this hot debate, both those who have either chosen to look the other way – whilst their fellow country men and women are being ridden roughshod over – or, those that have committed the oppression and injustice, have tended to quote several Bible scriptures to support their views.
The most quoted have been the first part of Romans 13, and 1 Peter 2:13,14, which basically instruct that Christians should be subject to those in authority, without any resistance.
On the face of it, that is exactly what these Bible verses instruct every faithful Christian to do.
Those who love to use these verses have attached to them the notion that, even in the event of oppression and injustice, a good Christian should just keep quiet and simply pray for those oppressive leaders.
Nevertheless, a closer scrutiny of these verses is required, before we rush to a shallow conclusion as to their meaning.
I am not one prone to engaging in needless scriptural doctrinal debates, as they can never be decisive, and are unproductively endless.
However, an analysis of the characters who wrote these much-loved verses would be a good place to start in understanding what these great Apostles could have truly meant.
Paul and Simon Peter, the authors of the epistles from which these verses are derived, were nothing as submissive to authority as the people who love quoting these verses would believe.
In fact, these two were hauled before the authorities for disobeying their orders not to preach using the name of Jesus – leading to several arrests, imprisonment, and the subsequent crucifiction of Peter.
If these verses that they wrote were to be given the interpretation some people want everyone to believe, then why did these two gentlemen not simply subject themselves to the authorities and stopped preaching?
Actually, in Acts 5:29, that same Peter who told us to be ‘subject to authority’, expressly said to those same authorities – who had arrested him – ‘We must obey God rather than men’.
So it is quite clear that both Peter and Paul did not mean for Christians to just be docile and submissive to authorities, whilst they defied God’s commands to us.
Additionally, Christians should obey God’s commands above those of human beings.
Both Paul and Peter make it clear that ‘there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God’.
What that basically means is that, if it had been an organogram, God would be the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), and those in authority would be the various managers appointed by the CEO.
As such, the managers derive their authority from the CEO, and the rest are subject to these managers.
Therefore, in all their dealings, the managers have to obey and be subject to the CEO.
In the event that these managers issue out commands, or engage in activities that are contrary to the CEO’s directives, then they must be disobeyed, and even challenged.
Furthermore, if the CEO issues a directive to the rest, which the managers do not like, then the CEO must be obeyed above the managers.
This is exactly what Paul and Peter meant in their verses – Christians must be subject to those in authority only if their directives are in line with those of God.
In the event that those in authority commit actions that are contrary to God, then they are to be disobeyed and even challenged – for no Christian should just stand by, whilst those in authority defy God.
This is exactly what the authors of those verses did.
In the same vein, Jesus Christ himself, the founder of Christianity defied the authorities on several occasions.
There are numerous examples in the Bible in which devout men of God wilfully defied authority in the face of directives – or actions by authorities – that were contrary to God’s will.
John the Baptist openly challenged Herod’s adulterous relationship with his brother’s wife, Herodus.
How many Christians today, especially the so-called ‘Men of God’ and ‘Prophets’, are prepared to challenge our most powerful leaders when they marry other people’s wives?
Prophet Nathan approached King David and rebuked him over his adultery with Bethsheba – where are today’s ‘Prophets’, or are they more concerned with lining their pockets that they would not dare engage in anything that would jeopardize that.
We also have examples, such as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who chose the fiery furnace than obey King Nebuchadnezzar’s order to worship him.
God commands all Christians to ‘open your mouth for the speechless…and plead the cause of the poor and needy’ in Proverbs 31:8,9.
In Psalm 82:3, Christians are instructed to ‘defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy’.
Actually, in my research, I discovered over 30 verses in the Bible that exhort Christians to ‘defend’, ‘speak for’, ‘plead for’, and ‘stand up for’ those who are ‘oppressed’, ‘voiceless’, ‘poor and needy’, ‘fatherless’, ‘widows’, and so on.
Note those key words
It is all well and good for Christians to donate food, clothes, blankets, and provide shelter for the homeless, but those words used in the Bible call for more than that.
God is instructing Christians to take more firm action against oppression and injustice.
Each and every Christian is commanded to stand up and resist all forms of oppression and injustice, in a peaceful manner.
This means Christians are required to be actively involved in speaking out and standing up against those perpetrators of oppression and injustice – be it government, employers, and even husbands and fathers in the home.
God is on the side of those who seek justice, as He is with Pastor Evan and other Chriatians who have dutifully obeyed His commands – for He hears the prayers of those who obey Him.
According to recent reports, over 90% of Zimbabweans profess to be Christians – so the question that quickly comes to mind is: where are they?
Would Zimbabwe still be in the harsh throngs of injustice, oppression, and brutality if 90% of the population peacefully rose up against such actions?
All those in the Bible that stood firmly for God’s commands against authority faced some form of persecution and even death – but they did it bravely, as they knew that they were serving God.
So why are today’s Christians the ‘comfortable’ type – those that would rather enjoy the safety of their comfort zones, whilst turning a blind eye to all the injustices around them.
Jesus talked about Christians being persecuted for His name’s sake.
How many Christians in Zimbabwe can truthfully say that they are prepared to be persecuted for Christ’s sake?
They have the opportunity to stand up – in the face of torrid persecution – for what God commanded them to do: to defend the poor, open their mouths for the speechless, and plead the cause of the needy.
° Tendai Ruben Mbofana is Programmes Director at the Zimbabwe Network for Social Justice (ZimJustice). Call/WhatsApp: +263782283975, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please ‘Like’ the ZimJustice page on Facebook.